Open Letter to 'Mythbuster' Michael Fumento

By John "Birdman" Bryant


Note: This is a slightly amplified version of a letter emailed to Fumento's
webmaster on 10 Nov 2000.  

Dear Mr Fumento:  

One of the most important ways in which I judge a person's competence and
reliability is how he treats his critics and their arguments.  I have read
the following two articles of yours which appear on your website

* Protests against biotechnology in foods are off target  

* Biotech Food Fights May Be Over Soon as Facts Frustrate Fearmongers' Case  

and, quite frankly, I am not impressed, because you never deal with the
several important arguments against genetically modified (GM) foods.  These
are the following:  

1) GM foods threaten biodiversity.  This is problematic for 2 reasons:  

a) A uniform type of seed means greater vulnerability to crop pests and
biowarfare agents.  Witness for example the Irish potato famine, where
disease caused the wiping-out of the (genetically-uniform) potato crop,
resulting in the death of millions, and the disruption of an entire nation.  

b) Uniform seed type means that the genetic information of millions of
years of evolution among the wide variety of the now-used commercial
strains may be lost forever, including the information which will allow the
development of new and improved breeds.  

2) GM foods are not adequately tested.  Only a few products have been around
for a few years -- hardly enuf time for adequate evaluation.  Some may be
fine; others may cause cancer or other diseases which do not show up for
long periods.  We already have a history of this type of thing -- margarine
and other types of artificial fats containing trans-fatty acids are now
becoming recognized as major culprits in heart disease, tho establishment
science is still fully behind these old-style frankenfoods.  

3) The fact that GM foods are given a pass by establishment science is
meaningless.  Your faith in establishment science is amazing, particularly
for a supposedly-sophisticated critic.  How could you not be aware that
science is now primarily government-funded, and he who pays the piper calls
the tune?  Politicization of science is a fact of life.  A lot of this
shows up in the environmental movement, whose policies you have criticized,
but you can't see that the problem is not this or that particular policy,
but the forces driving them.  For example, the mythology of AIDS is very
political, and is driven by the microbe-hunting establishment.  

4) An important element of GM food technology is creating seeds which grow
into sterile plants, and while this is great for seed companies which can
sell a lot more seed, it is risky for the nation whose farmers can no
longer save their seeds, particularly when uniform seeds are vulnerable to
wipeout by biological pests (see above).  

5) Another important element of GM food technology is that companies are
modifying their seeds to require chemicals for their growth.  In a world
where chemicals have produced so much pollution, this represents a
significant environmental risk, particularly when the chemicals, like the
seeds they 'turn on', lack adequate testing.  

6) Even if it were true that GM food is safe for humans, this does not
mean that the environmental effect of GM plants is benign.  Of particular
concern is the transfer of GM reproductive material into the natural
environment, which may then become part of natural strains with a who-
knows-what effect.  As one realistic scenario, consider the possibility
that the sterility genes of GM plants are transferred to other plants and
wipe them out.  

In short, it seems to me that your 'debunking' of the anti-GM movement is
either grossly ignorant and irresponsible, or else dishonest and agenda-
driven.  Perhaps I am wrong, but it will take one hell of an argument to
persuade me otherwise.  And even if you do marshal some arguments against
the points I have made, the principal point is that -- at least in the two
articles cited above -- you fail to deal with the objections to GM, and
this seems to thoroughly vitiate either your competence or your honesty.  

I will be publishing this in my next Weekly Letter, and if you fail to make
a response (which I will be happy to publish or link), I shall put it as a
permanent file on my website.  


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